Ecovillages: Muddy Roads and Clear Visions
Founders and inhabitants of ecovillages (human sustainable community settlements that use green energy and ecotechnologies in order to become more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable than any city) may be living in remote areas and with purposefully limited daily communication with the rest of the world, but they could as well be fully aware of the pressing issues of that world and having ideas what to do with them.
At the General Assembly of the Global Ecovillage Network for Europe, Africa and Middle East held in Tamera, Portugal last July, this organization addressed the upcoming Rio+20 Summit from their perspective. Declaration to the EU got prepared: “Rio 20+ conference will take place in Rio de Janeiro next year. Politicians need to put on the table something meaningful to avoid another disaster like Copenhagen. The declaration states how to transition Europe to low impact settlements in rural and urban areas.“ Among other, the declaration suggests: launching comprehensive and coordinated policy package to facilitate creation and preservation of low-impact settlements; setting-up of sufficient financing mechanisms to support increased private and public investment in the creation of and transitioning to carbon-neutral low-impact settlements throughout Europe and neighboring countries; implementing innovative models for experimental and effective learning of sustainability. (Interactive map of ecovillages in Europe; Global direcorium of ecovillages)
In the text From Eco-Kooks to Eco-Consultants, published in 2007, Jonathan Dawson (from the Global Ecovillage Network) writes: “After decades of being more or less off the radar – dismissed as kooks and freaks – ecovillage initiatives around the world are now increasingly affecting mainstream culture, and in fact, ecovillages are being sought out as partners by conventional, mainstream organsations.“ He mentions such examples from Senegal, Germany, Brazil, Canada, Scotland. And yet: “…it is easy to forget just how little – and just how recently – mainstream society has paid attention to the sustainability agenda. In this context, many activists from the 1960s onward who understood the deeply destructive nature of the dominant industrial paradigm felt they had little choice but to opt out and attempt to model the new, Gaian paradigm from outside the mainstream”.
Ecovillages in Serbia and Mexico that we have explored, have been made in such times: 35 and 30 years ago respectively.
Serbia: Porodica bistrih potoka
Web site of the commune
Video from the village
Photos and video from the exhibition marking 35th anniversary
Eco and artistic community Porodica bistrih potoka (Clear Streams Family) was founded in 1977 in Serbian mountain Rudnik by conceptual artist Bozidar Mandic and his family. Before leaving the city Mandic was part of avant-garde artistic scene. In the village, they bought an old traditional house, made of wood, mud and stones, surrounded by three streams and started living there. Soon they were joined by a group of friends, mainly artists and intellectuals of diverse walks. After several years of joint life which Mandic described in an interview as an ’intensive commune’, it was transformed into family community with three children, several animals and many visitors. Throughout the last two decades, the phase of ’ephemeral commune’ has been lived, with renewed interest in artistic expression coupled with the life intertwined with the nature.
The founder is now joined by some 20 young people who come and go. Together, they prepare alternative theatre performances, later played in festivals. In addition, Mandic is author of almost 20 books – The most recent one is called Muddy Road (Blatnjavi put). He also writes weekly column for a Belgrade paper, where he discusses the perils of life in alienation from nature, describes the life in mountains with its joys and hurdles, and expresses his thoughts of what arts, emotions and spirituality gain though simple living, in accordance with the environment. In 1993, the commune has established annual award for an individual who contributed to the nature protection. Porodica bistrih potoka, as Bozidar Mandic put it, is in search for 5E: Ecology, Ethics, Esthetics, Eroticism, Emotions. Within one of the houses that belongs to the commune, there is a permanent exhibition, which more than 30 thousand people visited in previous decades.
In recent years, there was public debate related to the potential environmental danger of a factory and road being built not far from the community location. The problem was solved in the meantime and compromise made by using the best environmentally-friendly protection mechanisms, it was said. This March in Belgrade was organized three-day event devoted to 35th anniversary of the Family of Clear Streams, including exhibition, book promotion, concert, documentaries about the commune and street-performance: giving clear stream water to passers-by. Turbulent decades that former Yugoslavia and Serbia have gone through in the last three and a half decades were recalled at the exhibition opening. As one of the speakers put it: Life is a like labyrinth – you take a road not knowing where it will end; in the last decades many of them have turned-out to be dead-ends. The Family of Clear Streams was not among them – it’s still ’alive and kicking’.
Huehuecoyotl means old wolf in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec Empire, still in use by some communities today. This is the name of the first ecovillage that was settled in Mexico. The community was founded in 1982 by a group of intellectual youth from different countries, who were also actors and had formed a starring art group called “The Illuminated Elephants”. Thirty years ago they decided to stay outside the city of Tepoztlan, after living and traveling as a caravan, staying for months in all the continents of the world, passing by India, Sweden, Malaysia, Australia, USA and many others. When they arrived in Mexico, they felt a need to settle, as they were no longer alone, some of them had already formed families, which included intimate partners and children.
“After travelling all around the world and throughout Mexico, we started looking for a place to stay. Then we saw this amate tree roots and we knew it was here. This place ended up being the one we chose, or we actually, this place was the one who chose us,” said Alberto Ruz Buenfil, one of the founders of Huehuecoyotl. With tired eyes and face semi-covered by a balaclava, Alberto came alive when remembering those years when the project began.
Three decades after its creation, the original members of the caravan still live there. With their indigenous traditional clothes, rainbow coloured scarves and gray long hair, they told me what are the major advantages by living in this place, so different from the buildings and neighbourhoods in cities: the use of solar cells, compost toilets, planting their own orchards, hydroponic techniques, they definitely have become a well-functioning example of sustainable architecture community worldwide.
Even if it sounds like a dream place to live in, not everything is as perfect as it sounds. One of the major problems they have faced in the past, it has been the failure of growth of the community, which since the beginning was able to hold only 13 houses. The land is not enough for any other dwelling and even the children of the founders, now that they have grown up and had families, are not able to build near their parents.
Bjerre Ria Boen, a Danish woman and one of the founders of the community, told me about the feeling of uncertainty it exists in Huehuecoyotl among the future of the ecovillage: “We were growing up in times where there was a very strong sense of living in communities, and we will die someday. Who knows what the children will do with our houses. That’s another project, but now I am only sure that here we made our imprint on mother Earth, and we have inspired many people. I must say this is sufficient for me.”
“Huehuecoyotl is the realization of our dream, maybe it is not perfect, but it is a real project. The fact that we made it happen is an inspiration for some other people who have dreams and plans, with our project they should know they can have the strength for making it real and living their dreams, “Alberto ended, with a smile on his face, remembering the cusp of what has been the greatest adventure of all of his life.
Reporters’ personal impressions
Mexico: On arrival
To get to Huehuecoyotl from Mexico City I had to take a taxi, then a bus and then I had to travel in an old rusty pick-up. I went all the way from the capital city, Mexico DF, to the state of Morelos, and then I arrived to a small town, known by being an alternative and esoteric place, called Tepoztlan. From there, long dirt roads lead us to the tiny community. When I got there, I could see how lucky these people were for living in a place surrounded by beautiful big, rocky mountains, breathing pure air and having thick vegetation, including humongous trees all around them.
I was carrying a camera, a sleeping bag and an incertude feeling, as I did not know what to expect from this place. I felt my heart crunching and butterflies in the stomach. Why did these people decided to live in such ways? A question that got answered itself as soon as I got to learn and experience their sustainable ways and goals of living.
Serbia: On departure
Leaving the opening of the exhibition devoted to 35th anniversary of the Family of Clear Springs (Porodica bistrih potoka), eco and artistic community in Serbia, I felt different than on the arrival. Half an hour of daring photos, simple wooden and vegatable sculptures, music, wise and sincere words and, most importantly, of people that gathered in Belgrade cultural institution Dom omladine, brought the sense of freshness, inspiration, liberty; feeling that experimenting and doing things differently could be rewarding in many ways. Challenging as well. Boyish look and charisma of Bozidar Mandic, founder and principal of the Family, now in his 60s, tells that 35 years of connecting nature and arts kept his body and spirit young, and his ideas, it seems, fresher and more relevant than ever.